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Joey Kennedy

Opinion | Let’s march: The #Neveragain reckoning on guns

Joey Kennedy

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The second best news for me this week is that the Alabama Legislature isn’t going to do the knee-jerk thing of passing a law that’ll allow teachers to carry guns into the classroom, as a deterrent to some lunatic who might attack a school to massacre students.

The protection of our students from a mad gunman isn’t a teacher’s responsibility; it’s law enforcement’s – those trained to do that. I don’t want a school resource officer teaching the writing process or Robert Frost; the parents of my students don’t want me packing heat on the chance some nut is going to barge into my classroom shooting.

Besides, I have wasp spray.

The news that, at least for this year, the Legislature has some sanity on the arming-teachers-issue couldn’t come at a better time for the outstanding young people organizing and planning Saturday’s March for Our Lives events across the nation.

That’s the best news this week.

This movement started fewer than six weeks ago, after the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and teachers were killed and others injured.

The impressive students at Douglas High said: “Enough! Never Again!”

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Sadly, since that tragic day Feb. 14, there have been other school shootings, including one right here in Birmingham, at Huffman High School, where a young woman who wanted to be a nurse died when a gun went off at the school.

Just this week, a Maryland high school was the scene of another shooting, where two students were injured and the shooter killed.

Will it ever be “Never Again”?

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Probably not. But that doesn’t mean something can’t be done to lower the risk of this all-too-common devastation on our nation.

Saturday in Birmingham, we’ll have a March for Our Lives event that is expected to attract between 3,000 to 5,000 people. There will be a rally starting at 2 p.m. at Railroad Park, followed by the march. This is in conjunction with the national March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., and more than 725 marches across the nation and another 80-plus marches around the world in solidarity with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students who ignited this movement.

#NeverAgain. #MSDStrong. #BanAssaultRifles

Those hashtags have been trending. They remain popular. And these young people are not going away. They’re scaring the National Rifle Association-owned politicians who want to be re-elected. Many of these “kids” will be voting this year, and that doesn’t bode well for the NRA politicians’ careers.

Still, those politicians are so afraid of the NRA they have done very little to ban all-access to military style weapons or bump stocks or huge ammunition magazines or even to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence as the serious health issue it is.

These politicians and the NRA have blood on their hands. The blood of our children. The blood of our teachers.

Blood.

So Saturday, in Washington, D.C., and in Birmingham, Alabama, and in other cities in Alabama and in cities and towns across the nation and world, the children will march.

Ashley Causey, a senior at Helena High School, has been instrumental in organizing Birmingham’s march. No doubt, these teens will be happy they won’t have to worry about their teachers being armed, at least for the next year.

Teachers with dry-erase markers and a Glock .45? Please.

“No, definitely not,” said Causey this week. “We’re strongly against teachers having guns.”

This teacher is against teachers having guns, too. C’mon, we have papers to grade.

Causey and her peers, in less than six weeks, have organized a march, gathered people to offer voter registration and other services, raised nearly $10,000, and can’t wait for Saturday’s event.

Get there early; it’s going to be crowded.

But it’s not just the size of a crowd. Causey said there are events that have 30 or fewer people involved.

“Even the smallest group of people, if you are impassioned enough and determined, can make a difference,” Causey said. She and her peers certainly have.

Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Birmingham will start with a rally. Speakers include both students and adults – law enforcement, involved teens, teachers, kids with gun-violence experience, involved teens, and, of course, involved teens. This is mainly a student-led movement.

The primary purpose is to advocate for responsible gun restrictions, but Causey is clear:

“We’re open to anybody who wants any type of reform,” she said. Security will be tight at the event, but it’s open to all who want to see the gun culture in this state and country change, those who want to help ensure kids can go to school, and anybody can go to the movies, or to a nightclub, or to church, or to a music festival, without a serious threat of being killed by a shooter.

And here’s what matters most:

“You would have thought with Newtown (Conn., Sandy Hook), that would have been the breaking point,” Causey said. But, “I think this (Parkland, Fla.) has affected a group of people who are not going to stand down. We’re not going to let this get lost in the news. I don’t think that’s going to happen any more.

“We want to be sure we have a lasting effect,” Causey said.

Spring Break might have just ended; Saturday’s marches are just the beginning.

The NRA, many conservative politicians, conspiracy theorists, gun nuts, and others, have already underestimated these amazing Millennials.

Well, they do so at their own risk.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | Alabama close to allowing hot dogs to be rescued

Joey Kennedy

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Most readers know that we’ve had a grumble of pugs for years. We lost four in the grumble last year. All of our dogs are rescues, and most of them have some disability: unable to walk well, blindness, incontinence, a perpetually crooked head.

And most of the pugs are elderly, so we expect to lose a few this year. Our youngest is Nellie Bly, at about 2 years old. We have a group of older pugs that are around 10-11 years old. Several came from puppy mills. One was surrendered to a vet tech when his owners took him to be put down because the owner’s granddaughter wanted a different dog (I know!). The veterinarian naturally was not going to euthanize a healthy animal, and about a week later, Peerey came to us.

Pugs are bred to do one thing: Sit with their humans, mostly on their laps or next to them on the bed. All of ours are bed pugs. They snore; we adore.

I say all of this to underscore that Veronica and I know not ever to leave one of our dogs in a locked car, especially during the summer. But every year, we hear stories of the careless owners who leave their dog (or dogs) in the backseat of a vehicle while they run an errand. The errand takes longer than the owner thought, and heat builds in the car. Too often, that kills the pet, just like it does children, and that happens all too often as well.

As of 2019, 31 states had laws that either prohibit leaving an animal confined in a vehicle under dangerous conditions or provide civil immunity (protection from being sued) for a person who rescues a distressed animal from a vehicle.

Alabama – finally – is on the cusp of joining that group.

A bill (SB67) sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, will allow good Samaritans to rescue pets left in a car if they are clearly in danger from either the heat or cold. The bill provides criminal immunity to civilians and grants civil and criminal immunity to law enforcement officers who rescue an animal.

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Important, too, is that bill prevents owners from leaving their animals in a vehicle in a manner that creates an unreasonable risk of harm. If they do, they can be charged with second-degree animal abuse.

It doesn’t take long for the situation in a vehicle to deteriorate, either. 

Even on a mild day, the heat inside a car can go off the rails. According to reports, if the outside temperature is 70 degrees (f), the interior of a vehicle can heat up to 89 degrees in 10 minutes. After a half-hour, the interior temp can be 104 degrees. Of course, it’s much worse on hotter days.

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At 80 degrees, a vehicles inside temperature is at 99 degrees; after a half-hour, the animal is trying to survive in a 114-degree oven. And at 95 degrees, not an unusual June, July, or August temperature in Alabama, the inside temp of a vehicle is about 130 degrees.

Humans can’t even survive long at those temperatures.

There are conditions before a good Samaritan can step up, but they’re not unusual in states that already have similar laws: Among them:

The person has a good faith belief that the confined domestic animal is in imminent danger of suffering physical injury or death unless the domestic animal is removed from the motor vehicle;
The person determines that the motor vehicle is locked or there is no reasonable manner in which the person can remove the domestic animal from the vehicle;
Before entering the motor vehicle, the person notifies a peace officer, emergency medical service provider or first responder or an animal control enforcement agency or deputy of the confined domestic animal;
The person does not use more force than is necessary under the circumstances to enter the motor vehicle and remove the domestic animal from the vehicle.
Remains with the animal in a safe location in reasonable proximity to the motor vehicle until law enforcement or other first responders arrive.
Maintains control of the animal at all times to prevent harm to the animal or others.

There are other conditions that make less sense, however. The bill as passed 33-0 by the state Senate requires the ambient temperature in the vehicle be 99 degrees or higher before a citizen or first-responder can intervene.

I can tell you that a half-hour in a car at 95 degrees will kill a pug; a Lab or Golden might survive that temperature for awhile, but remember, every minute the car’s interior is getting hotter. Pugs are brachycephalic – short nosed – and have trouble breathing outside at 80 or 85 degrees.

Other short-nosed breeds like English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers, have the same issue. It’s one reason why they snort and snore, even in the winter.

Generally, we can tell when a dog locked in a car is distressed, and few good Samaritans are going to be carrying a temperature gauge with them.

Still, the House needs to pass this bill as soon as possible. Spring and summer aren’t that far off, and, no doubt, there will be animals to rescue.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter.

Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | Facts are stubborn things

Joey Kennedy

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I’m in my 20th year of teaching in the English Department at UAB. I’ve never taught my primary discipline, journalism, and I really don’t have much of a desire to, either.

Yet, in 2017, the leadership of UAB’s University Honors Program asked me to be a part of their interdisciplinary faculty for the fall. UHP’s fall semesters are themed, and that year, the first year of Donald Trump’s term as president, the theme was appropriate: “Evidence and Belief in a Post-Truth Society.” For UHP, I was a “communications” (journalism) professor. I taught with a scientist and public health professor, a religion professor, a philosophy professor, a literature professor and a psychology professor.

The students in this program – all 100-plus of them – are among the smartest students on campus. Needless to say, I was intimidated. For my first lecture before the students, I took a Xanax (it’s prescribed because I do have anxiety sometimes). The Xanax didn’t make me lecture better, but it made me not really care if I screwed up.

I’m sort of a one-trick pony – I teach and write in the only language I know: English. Here, you had neuroscience and biology and chemistry majors galore. And, yes, there were a few English and history and business and engineering students, too. Pretty much every discipline taught at UAB is represented in UHP, and certainly in its umbrella school, the UAB Honors College.

That fall went by quickly. I only took the Xanax for the first lecture. I settled into my groove pretty quickly. But when it was over, I ached for the continued intellectual stimulation I received as a teacher. I’m a lifetime learner, and that program taught me a lot. And I got to teach others a lot, too.

I thought it was a one-shot deal. Until, that is, the program’s director, Dr. Michael Sloane, asked me to return in the fall of 2018 to direct the first-year students’ literary analyses. And that fall, I was also asked to propose a UHP seminar class for the spring of 2020. I returned last fall to once again direct the first-year literary analysis. And I’ve been asked to return for first-year LAs again this coming fall.

This semester, I’m teaching the class I proposed, “Media and Social Justice.” And I’ve already got another self-created UHP seminar class scheduled for next spring, “Media and War: Men and Women Making a Difference on the Front Lines.”

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Unlike my composition and literature classes in the English Department, these seminars have no template. I have to create the teaching as I go. Some days, I’m very confident; others not so much.

I divided the “Media and Social Justice” class into six two-week units: Nellie Bly (mental illness and investigative journalism), The Jungle (food safety and immigration), Jim Crow Lives (the civil rights era and voter suppression), #MeToo (sexual assault and harassment), Black Lives Matters (police and other shootings of people of color), and March for Our Lives (gun violence and sensible gun regulation).

These classes are limited to 16 honors students, but 19 students wanted in my “Media and Social Justice” class, so I have 19 students.

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I teach these classes as a communications professor, not an English professor. I direct the literary analyses as a literature professor, not a communications professor.

We’re covering historical topics, for sure, but also contemporary topics. It doesn’t get any more current than Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, voter suppression, or March for Our Lives.

We don’t just talk about the journalism around these topics, but also about other media. For example, I find protest songs for each topic. While it’s not on our plate, did you know Trump has inspired a whole catalog of protest songs? Most every president inspires protest songs, though Trump has inspired an awful lot of them.

Maybe at some point, I’ll create a “Media and Donald J. Trump” class. There is plenty of material.

The point, though, is that we all should be lifelong learners. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from by English students and my honors students, how much the English faculty has taught me, and how much the faculty and directors of the University Honors Program have taught me.

That I get to return the favor by teaching these unique classes says a lot about UAB, and how it values critical thinking and learning.

I hope I never lose my enthusiasm for learning, or become too stubborn to change when the facts point toward another direction. That is our responsibility to the truth. I guess I am stubborn in one way: There are no alternative facts. Facts are truth, reality. The alternative is false, untruth, lies.

Readers, that’s a fact, and like me sometimes, facts are stubborn.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].

 

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Opinion | Doug Jones: On the right side of history

Joey Kennedy

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As expected, most Republicans in the U.S. Senate found Donald Trump not guilty of two articles of impeachment. On the first charge, abuse of power, the vote was 52-48 not guilty. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney broke with his party on that one.

The second charge, obstruction of Congress, Romney went back home so it was a straight party-line vote, 53-47.

If anything, the evidence was strongest on the obstruction of Congress count. Trump blocked witnesses and refused to turn over documents despite legal subpoenas from the U.S. House of Representatives. So Trump is absolutely guilty, in fact, if not in process, for obstruction.

He’s guilty, too, of the abusing his power, though the mess with Ukraine isn’t the first time. Trump began abusing the power of the president’s office practically on his first day.

This was no surprise, though. The Republican Party has forever been co-opted. It’s been the party of Trump for awhile, the Republicans generally scared to death to face Trump’s vengeful wrath. As Trump showed in the State of the Union Tuesday night, he’s a petty, petty, small-minded person. And, no, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi should not have ripped his speech in half at the end of the night for all to see. That was as petty as Trump refusing to shake Pelosi’s hand as he took the podium.

From here, it’s a great mistake for Democrats and other Trump opponents to mimic the contemptible president.

But this fact stands: Trump is forever impeached. And the cowardly Republicans in the House and Senate who let him off the hook will be forever on the wrong side of history.

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To his credit, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Birmingham, did his duty and followed his oath. The former U.S. attorney, who successfully prosecuted a bomber of the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church where four little girls were murdered, knows the law and followed through as he vowed to do: weigh the evidence and decide based on the facts. Jones found Trump guilty on both impeachment resolutions.

Our other senator, Richard Shelby, R-Birmingham, followed the Stepford Republicans and voted not guilty.

More than a few Republicans who voted not guilty Wednesday for Trump had voted guilty during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, including the two-faced Shelby.

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Everybody’s calling the forever impeachment of Trump simply a partisan exercise. And it was. But it was the right thing to do, too.

Even though there were a few Republican senators who voted to acquit Clinton, that was a highly partisan affair, too. And the U.S. Senate in 1999 was much different than the U.S. Senate of today.

During those days, there were actually progressive and moderate Republicans in the Senate. Today, there are only Trump Republicans, with the exception of a few pretenders who, even so, are always scared to death to defy him.

No doubt Alabama Republicans are pleased with the result. There are fewer states with more enthusiasm for the narcissistic Trump than Alabama. Yet Doug Jones, who is facing a tough re-election bid this year, voted to convict the president, as he should have and regardless of his re-election..

It was absolutely the right call if Jones was going to fulfill his oath. Then, Jones always fulfills his oath.

“On the day I was sworn in as a United States Senator, I took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. Just last month, at the beginning of the impeachment trial, I took a second oath to do ‘impartial justice’ according to the same Constitution I swore to protect,” Jones explained in a prepared statement announcing his decision before the Senate vote on the unstable president’s fate Wednesday afternoon. “These solemn oaths have been my guides during what has been a difficult time for our country. But I cannot and will not shrink from my duty to defend the Constitution and to do impartial justice.”

And then, said Jones: “I have concluded that the evidence is more than sufficient to convict the President for both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.”

Complete and unmitigated integrity, unlike Trump himself, the Trump party, and the Trump toadies that make up our government now.

My hope is that the House continues to investigate the many Trump crimes. And now that he’s been given a free pass by the Senate Republicans, he’ll surely keep it up.

My hope is that Democrats, independents, and others not sucked in by Trump’s twisted populism keep his awful record in front of voters. The demographics of our nation and, yes, even Alabama, are changing, and the swing is toward more intelligent voters who embrace progressive ideas. The change is slower here, but it’s happening, and there’s nothing the Angry White Men can do about it.

The Trump Republicans have irrevocably damaged their causes, but that’s OK because their causes are rotten to the core.

Trump, meanwhile, will continue to find himself in trouble. At least until he’s out of office next January.

Whatever happens in Alabama with Sen. Jones’ re-election effort, he will be forever on the right side of history, and his demonstrated integrity will long outlive however many years he serves in the U.S. Senate.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | More help on the way for Doug Jones

Joey Kennedy

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O.K. So, many of the voters I talk with believe that U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, stands little chance of being re-elected this year to his seat.

Former Sen. Jeff Sessions or U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne or the former Auburn football coach or the twice-ousted chief justice who at one time stalked teenaged girls or one of the others will win.

Why? Simply because they are the Republicans.

But Jones has already shown that thinking to be mistaken. He did, after all, win the seat a couple years ago, against a popular Republican, the man who at one time stalked teenaged girls. That one.

Nobody is saying Jones will win big, or that it’ll be an easy campaign.

Yet, he can win. And as APR’s Jessa Reid Bolling reported Thursday, Jones may get some important help.

The Progressive Turnout Project (PTP) is focusing on Democratic Party voters in 16 states with a six-month canvassing programs intended to increase voter turnout among Democrats.

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Don’t underestimate such efforts on behalf of Jones. Bolling reports the group is spending $45 million in get-out-the-vote efforts in states where certain races are predicted to be close.

The canvassing program begins in May, and will focus on “low propensity, low information Democratic voters who the party has struggled to reach in key swing states ahead of the 2020 election.”

Jones won before with a big push from African-American voters and, specifically, African-American women voters. Combine those voters with an all-out effort to turn out even more Democrats for this fall, and Jones’ chances are certainly better.

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A majority of the uninvolved Democrats PTP is targeting are African-Americans, but there is also a push for younger voters and women.

PTP is using science to help decide which voters’ doors to target, and with PTP’s in-depth, canvass-focused approach, including a field office in Birmingham, they will employ eight staff to knock on 85,800 doors and engage with those low propensity and low information voters in Alabama from May until Election Day, Bolling reports.

And why not vote for Jones over one of the Republicans? The state Republican Party is bending over backward defending Donald Trump over charges of corruption. Clearly Trump has crossed just about every line of honesty and decency of any president in, perhaps, the history of the country. He’s told more than 16,000 lies or misinformation, as tracked by the mainstream media, during his three years in office.

Windmills cause cancer? Millions of voters cast illegal votes in the 2016 election? Puerto Rico is “an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water”? OK, that’s true, but what an odd, low-information way to say it.

Too, Sessions has a lot of baggage. He was fired by Trump as U.S. Attorney General, though he refuses to say anything critical of the president even now, as Trump is being impeached. Instead, like every other Alabama Republican running for office, Sessions prefers to suck up to him. Byrne is seen by many voters as little more than a Trump toady. Indeed, the entire Republican field is toadying up to Trump.

Sessions was in the Senate for 20 very long years; Jones, in two years, has more accomplishments as an Alabama U.S. Senator than Sessions had in two decades.

Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn coach, was moderately successful on the football field, but the political field is completely different. Jones needs no learning curve.

And Roy Moore, the teen-stalking former chief justice, has become basically a parody of himself.

So with a concerted effort, and we’re going to see that from Jones this year, the incumbent does have a real chance. The Progressive Turnout Project’s efforts give Jones a fighting chance.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

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